The Collect read in church on August 27
Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
These days, Monday Matters offers reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.
What do Jimi Hendrix, Mahatma Gandhi and Michael Curry have in common? Apparently, each have said something along these lines: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” I thought of their common ground as I reflected on the collect heard in church yesterday (above). That prayer speaks about power and the church.
When we talk about power and the church, the mind can easily go to ways the church over centuries has identified with those with power in this world. These have not been the church’s best moments. Go all the way back to Constantine, who found it useful to identify the Christian faith as the faith of the Roman empire. Consider the ways that church leaders have linked up with political or military enterprises like the crusades or colonial enterprises. In the category of nothing new under the sun, we currently find church leaders cozying up to political and economic powers of the day. I’ve succumbed to that as a parish priest, when I paid a bit more attention to parishioners who made big pledges or who had influence that might help me to be a successful rector (whatever that means).
Let’s take a closer look at the collect. It says that it is God’s power, not our own, that makes the difference. It is the Holy Spirit that gathers people in community. Not us.
I’ve been reading books by Andrew Root, a Lutheran theologian, who has a lot to say about the church these days, and especially its decline. My best reading of his message is that the contemporary church needs to increase focus on the transcendence of God. He says we live too much in the immanent frame, acting as if God is spectator, maybe a sleepy one at that. Here’s a way to understand what he means. He says: The church is not the star of the story. God is the star of the story.
It is God’s power that, through the Holy Spirit, will allow the church to gather in unity. When I think about the kind of wacky characters that populate our pews (and our pulpits), I can embrace the notion that it is only by a power beyond ourselves that a powerful community can be brought together.
It is God’s power that shines through the church, as if the church is a stained glass window, radiant with beauty only when light (God’s light) shines through it. That can actually be delightfully good news for the church. We don’t need to rely on our own ingenuity or innovation, our crafty, creative cleverness to bring the impact God intends for the church to have in the world. We simply are called to rely on the power of love (not the love of power). We are called to trust in it.
Last Saturday was the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, when the dream of Martin Luther King was proclaimed in one of the most powerful speeches of the 20th century. The speech, in keeping with Dr. King’s ministry, relied on the power of God, the power of love, the conviction (which Dr. King learned from Gandhiji) that non-violence bore its own transcendent and transforming power.
The vision of Dr. King’s dream may seem now to be clouded or fading in some places (e.g., tragic events on that same Saturday in Jacksonville, Florida, an explicit hate crime fueled in part by public divisive discourse), I remain hopeful that the power Dr. King invoked, the power of love, is what our broken world needs now. The church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can shine with that power.
Let me add one more voice to Jimi Hendrix, Mahatma Gandhi and Michael Curry. It’s St. Paul, who in the beginning of his letter to the Romans spoke of power. He said, in the theme verses of that letter (Romans 1:16, 17) that he was not ashamed of the gospel because it was the power of God, the power of love. The Greek word for power which he uses in that letter is dunamis, which shows up in our lingo as dynamic or even dynamite.
The church has been given access to that transforming, indeed explosive power. Too often, we stand in the way of its activity, or act like it’s something we have to conjure up, or simply ignore it. But it is there for us. Pray with me for that power to be unleashed.